Fifteen or 16 Leonardo da Vinci paintings are known to exist.  With nine in a new National Gallery show, blockbuster art exhibitions will be redefined!

Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan focuses on Leonardo’s tenure in Milan from 1482-1499, when he served as the court painter to Ludovico Sforza (1452-1519). When requesting employment from this ruling family, Leonardo da Vinci emphasized his expertise in military engineering, adding this his painting and sculpture skills were a bonus.

Some bonus.

Shortly after arriving in Milan, Leonardo was commissioned to create an altarpiece, The Virgin of the Rocks. Leonardo altered the commission to include St. John the Baptist (he is in the left foreground), and the commissioners refused the price Leonardo requested.

Leonardo da Vinci.  Lady with an Ermine, ca. 1493-1494. Approx. 16″ by 22″.  National Museum, Cracow.

He sold the work elsewhere, but years later was persuaded to create a second version. The restoration of this Virgin of the Rocks, owned by the National Gallery in London, was the impetus for this Leonardo exhibition.

For the first time, these two Leonardo da Vinci paintings will be exhibited together. Comparison of their differences – for instance, the later Virgin of the Rocks has less intricately painted naturalism but more sculptural effects created by Leonardo’s modelling of light and dark – is enough to make me long to visit this show.

Other Leonardo da Vinci paintings provide more reasons:

Portrait of a Young Man (The Musician), 1486-1487.  Prior to this Leonardo da Vinci painting, portraits were in strict profile.  That changed with this 3/4 profile pose, which inspired other Renaissance painters and Leonardo’s students.

Lady with an Ermine, ca. 1489-1490. Incredible that the National Museum in Cracow is lending its prize painting.

The Belle Ferronniere, ca. 1493-1494.  This may be Beatrice d’Este (1475-1497), a leading lady of the Italian Renaissance and the wife of Ludovico Sforza.

Leonardo da Vinci.  Virgin of the Rocks, 1483-1485.  Probably oil on panel (transferred to canvas), 78 1/2″ by 48″.  Louvre, Paris.

St. Jerome, 1488-1490.  One of the unfinished paintings of Leonardo, on loan from the Vatican.

Madonna Litta, 1491-1495.  Read about Madonna Litta, in the show, and Benois Madonna, both from the Hermitage.

Christ as Salvator Mundi, ca. 1499. Remember how this post started with reference to 15 or 16 Leonardo da Vinci paintings? This is the “or”.

The National Gallery’s inclusion of this controversial attribution to Leonardo will be worth following.  Read some of the history behind the attribution of this Leonardo da Vinci painting.

Additionally, the show features Leonardo cartoons and drawings (many of which are on loan from the world’s largest collection, owned by Queen Elizabeth), including the woman in Madonna Litta, compositional studies for The Last Supper, as well as paintings by Leonardo’s students and contemporaries.

Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan runs until 5 February 2012.  If you’re lucky enough to go there, please, please, send a report!

Leonardo da Vinci.  The Belle Ferronniere, ca. 1493-94.  Oil on wood, 24″ by 17″.  Louvre, Paris. 

UPDATE: In November 2017, Salvator Mundi sold at auction for $450.3 million.

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